Twilight Music was written directly after my first String Quartet: both pieces move toward an abstract and compact way of working, in reaction to the large orchestral works that precede them. The quartet shows obviously, being outwardly tense and without illusions. The present piece shelters abstract structure origins beneath a warmer exterior.
The horn and the violin have little in common. Any merging must be tromp-l’oreille and they share material mainly to show how differently they project it. In this piece the two meet casually at the beginning, and part rather formally at the end. In between they follow the piano into a Presto, which dissolves into the twilight half-tones that named the piece. The third section, an Antiphon, is the crux – the origin of the piece’s intervallic character. It is the kind of music I am drawn to, where the surface seems simplest and most familiar, where the piece seems to make no effort, but some purposeful, independent musical argument is at work.
The final section’s image of separation grows directly out of the nature of the instruments.
This piece was commissioned by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center for performance by David Jolley, James Buswell, and Richard Goode. Such virtuosity as possessed by these artists allowed me to write with reckless subtlety for instruments which I heard meeting best under cover of dusk.
— John Harbison